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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden To Announce New Oil Reserve Sales To Keep Gas Prices Down; Michigan Voters To Decide Whether To Enshrine Abortion Rights Into State Constitution; Walker Defends His Transparency On Abortion Allegations; President Biden Promises To Codify Roe V. Wade; Sources: Iran Military Trained Russian Forces On Using Drones; Former State Journalist Speaks Out On Russia's Propaganda. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2022 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, October 19th. I'm Christine Romans. Good morning. Three weeks from this morning, we should hopefully know the winners of the midterm elections. The latest CNN polling shows the economy and inflation are the top issues for voters.

Later today, President Biden will announce the sale of 15 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That will happen in December. Mr. Biden's aim is to ease gas prices as Republican candidates focus on inflation and rising prices. The move fulfills the administration's decision back in March to release a total of 180 million barrels from the reserve over a six-month period.

We get more now from CNN's Phil Mattingly.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden and his top economic officials have, for several months, made -- trying to do something, anything to dampen skyrocketing gas prices, a central priority, if not, the top priority both politically and economically for the administration.

Over the course of the summer, they had a pretty good run, more than three months of consecutive drops in gas prices. A run that was really put into question by the decision from OPEC Plus to reduce its output targets by nearly 2 million barrels. The administration has moved quickly and intensively over the course of the last several days to do something to blunt the impact of that. And the President on Wednesday is set to announce at least some of those steps.

This is part of the plan the President laid out in the spring. 180 million barrels released over the course of six months. It is an additional release than they planned at least a couple of weeks ago. And it underscores the President's real urgency to try and address this issue particularly just three weeks out from the midterm elections. It's something he alluded to at an event Los Angeles last week. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Price of gas is still too high, and we need to keep working to bring it down. More to say about that next week.


MATTINGLY: Obviously, the President spent Tuesday talking about abortion rights really trying to thrust that back into center stage and recognition inside the White House of what a motivating issue that could be for Democratic voters for, independent women, for young voters, in particular, trying to draw on voters remembering how they felt when the Supreme Court first made that decision explicitly. The President did that several times.

However, the reality remains. The economy is the number one issue in poll after poll of voters of both parties. And perhaps nothing is more salient when it comes to the economy then gas prices. Some dips over the course of the last couple of days. But the President and his team trying to do anything there possible to both maintain those and drive them down even further.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.

ROMANS: It's worth noting, gas prices down about $0.02 cents overnight to $3.85 on average a gallon. All right a major promise on abortion rights from President Biden in the run up to the midterms. President says if Democrats elect more senators and keep control of the House, he will act quickly to restore a woman's right to choose.


BIDEN: The first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade. And when Congress passes it, I'll sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first decided the law of the land.


ROMANS: In the battleground state of Michigan, abortion rights is literally on the ballot. But the economy still remains a big driver for voters. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more from Saginaw.


REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: To deal with inflation, you have to reduce costs for the American family. While we get through this, for sure.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressman Dan Kildee is still talking about inflation. Three weeks before voters here in Michigan and across the country decide whether Democrats should retain control of Congress. By now, President Biden and his fellow Democrats hope that high costs from the spring and summer would have eased, but the fierce economic headwinds seem as strong as ever.

KILDEE: Is it a challenge for us? Absolutely. People tend to hold the party, holds the White House, responsible for everything. We just asked folks to really think carefully about what the alternatives are. Look at the current condition of the Republican Party. Look at their policies.

ZELENY (voice-over): Kildee is sounding the alarm about the prospects of Republicans taking the reins of the House, even as his rival Paul Junge is trying to keep the economy and inflation at the center of their race.

PAUL JUNGE (R), MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: People are really concerned about the cost of living. I mean, everywhere I go, gas prices, grocery prices, it's really hitting their budgets.

ZELENY (voice-over): The battle for control of Congress runs right through Michigan's Eighth District, which includes Saginaw County, a battleground within a battleground that voted twice for Obama, once for Trump, and for Biden. One of only 25 such counties in America.


This year, the verdict will be shaped by the dueling sentiments from voters like Tom Roy, a Republican who blames Democratic policies for inflation.

TOM ROY, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN VOTER: Gas prices in the economy and inflation. I hope that things get -- we can't continue to spend some fund. It's got to, you know, it's like a credit card. You can only tap that for long because it's, you know, over the limit.

ZELENY (voice-over): And from Tracy Bottecelli, a Democrat who says there's plenty of blame to go around for inflation.

TRACY BOTTECELLI, MICHIGAN DEMOCRAT VOTER: I want to scream from the mountaintops. It's not one guy who is doing this.

ZELENY (voice-over): Some -- and the Democrats don't blame the President --

BOTTECELLI: No. Blame corporations and the corporate greed and, yes, don't blame politics for every single thing that happens in our world.

ZELENY (voice-over): With early voting underway, campaigns are taking final shape. And in Michigan, abortion is also on the ballot as voters are asked whether to enshrine the protection of abortion rights into the state constitution.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): My choice!

ZELENY (voice-over): Democrats believe it could motivate voters and boost Kildee and neighboring Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, both of whom have made abortion rights central to their closing arguments. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Junge would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape, incest.

ZELENY (voice-over): Two years ago, Junge narrowly lost a race to Slotkin. This year, he moved to a new district to take on Kildee.

JUNGE: 46 years of Kildee's in Congress comes to an end this November.

ZELENY (voice-over): He said he's running to offer a check on the economic policies of the Biden administration.

JUNGE: When one party has the White House and both parts of Congress, that governance often is seen as too extreme by people. And I see that as a campaign all the time.

ZELENY (voice-over): Kildee first elected to Congress a decade ago after his uncle held a Michigan seat for 36 years conceded the Democrats face deep challenges on the economy, but implored voters to see it as a choice.

KILDEE: I don't walk lockstep with a political party. But what's the Republican brand that we're running against? It's a party that's lost its soul, if not its mind.


ZELENY: One thing that's clear, three weeks from tonight, all eyes will be on here in Saginaw County. It's a classic swing area. It certainly will give you an early sense of how the night will be for Democrats and Republicans alike.

ROMANS: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

Florida now, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger Val Demings, facing off in their first and only debate on the Florida Senate race. The two candidates got heated answering questions on abortion rights and guns. Demings accusing Rubio of lying. The senator attacked Demings' record in Congress.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): The extremist on abortion in this campaign is Congresswoman Demings. She supports no restrictions, no limitations of any kind.

SEN. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): To stand over there and say that I support, don't support abortions up to the time of birth is just a lie.

RUBIO: I have a bipartisan red flag law, sponsored with Senator Jack Reed. But the problem is that the leftist in the Senate and in the House like Senator -- like Congresswoman Demings are against it because they want the California red flag law that allows your co- worker has a grudge against you and can go to a judge and take away your gun, that I'll never support.

DEMINGS: How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, a grocery store, a movie theater, a mall and a nightclub --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman --

DEMINGS: -- and do nothing?


ROMANS: If Demings wins, she would be the state's first black senator. She is trailing in recent polls.

All right, Herschel Walker says he's been transparent about allegations that he paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion and encouraged her to have another one. Here's what he told reporters Tuesday.


HERSCHEL WALKER (R), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, what I say is I found out what it was and when I told everyone I found out, was the 10th time I found out and I've answered that question time and time again. And my campaign now has been about going forward, because I've been honest.


ROMANS: CNN has not independently verified the woman's allegations that she has remained anonymous. Walker has repeatedly denied the accusations. But in an NBC interview, he acknowledged the authenticity of a $700 check he sent to the woman. However, he claims he did not know what the check was for.

But let's bring in Daniel Strauss, Senior Political Correspondent for The New Republic. Daniel, you write in an article that Herschel Walker is the only Senate candidate in 2022 to have gotten caught in a lie and in spite of all of the above, Walker could still win. I mean, you've turned out nine lies of Herschel Walker. What is it about Herschel Walker that, you know, voters are overlooking so many of these statements?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I mean, it's more that voters at this point are so entrenched in their politics, that there's very little that can change their voting plans this close to the election. That's partially just because we're only a few weeks out, and partially because there are only a few things within the Republican Party that can really shift the voters support away from a candidate.


In this case, what we're talking about is whether there are voters who were on the fence about voting in the Senate race at all, probably for Walker, and this would have likely -- one of his lies would have likely discourage them from doing that. But what we've seen in the past few weeks is that as Walker has been caught about, in lies about how many children he has, child support, encouraging an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion, that pro-choice -- pro-life groups have doubled down on their support for Walker.

And that signal to voters at large that if they were planning on voting for Walker before, they should still stick with him. But beyond that, again, Cristine, it's just such a partisan time --


STRAUSS: -- in the U.S. It's very, very difficult to move the small sum of voters who are undecided who are willing to split their tickets from one candidate to another. And I think that's what we're seeing in Georgia.

ROMANS: Meantime, President Biden yesterday making this strong promise on abortion, you know, saying, vote Democratic senators, keep the House and we will restore a woman's right to choose nationwide. How significant is that promise for Democrats?

STRAUSS: I mean, I -- clearly, the White House wants to -- clearly that was a deliberate line and the White House wants to keep abortion rights front and center in the mindset of voters for the midterms. Look, it's been a few months since the Dobbs decision came down. And both public and private polling has shown that the top concern among some voters, especially independent voters, suburban voters, has shifted somewhat away from abortion rights toward the economy, toward other domestic issues.

And the reason that Biden made those comments which were pretty deliberate and pretty clearly plan was to reinforce that abortion rights is on the ballot. And this White House wants to keep that topic in the center of people's minds as they go to the polls.

ROMANS: I think the economy is still top of mind here, and inflation. You know, voters also think Republicans handled the economy better than Democrats, according to this ABC News/Washington Post poll. What can Democrats do to, I guess, hang on to the House and Senate next month? Or what should they be doing to hone their message on the economy?

STRAUSS: Look, strategists I've talked to say that, at this point, it's almost out of their hands. The Democrats have always sort of struggled with a very coherent, clear, short bumper sticker message on the economy. It's not surprising that voters right now see that Republicans is slightly more dependable on the economy. That's been sort of the generic view for multiple cycles now.

And the strategist I've talked to are just hoping that in the next few weeks, there won't be some kind of spike in inflation, spike in oil prices --


STRAUSS: -- which could really, that alone, could really shift the direction of the midterms toward one party or the other.

ROMANS: Yes. STRAUSS: So, the question right now for Democrats is just have a coherent answer. Just be able to say that this is a -- make an argument that this is something that will not change dramatically in a negative direction if you switch parties.

ROMANS: All right, Daniel Strauss, nice to see you bright and early this Wednesday morning. Thank you.

All right, two verdicts in the decades old Kristin Smart murder case. One suspect convicted, the other cleared. Plus, the Iranian rock climber who competed without a hijab returns home. Will the morality police pay her a visit? And a former Russian soldier now telling the truth about the war on Ukraine.


GLEB IRISOV, FORMER RUSSIAN AIR FORCE LIEUTENANT TURN STATE JOURNALIST: If you want really to spoke out, you need to be at some kind of safe place.




ROMANS: All right, Russia continues to launch aerial attacks on cities across Ukraine at this hour. U.S. intelligence sources say Iran sent military personnel to Crimea to train and advise Russian forces on these Iranian built drones that have been used in these attacks. Iran denies supplying Russia with the -- with weapons, but in this war, it is very hard to tell what the truth is.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Kyiv. Nic, Vladimir Putin speaks to his Security Council a short time from now. Will there be any hard truths revealed there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We can expect propaganda and spin from Putin, whatever the conversation behind closed doors with a security, chief says. He put on or rather state media put on TV in Russia last night Sergei Surovikin, General Sergei Surovikin, the new general that Putin's put in charge of operations inside Ukraine.

And he was talking about how it was -- how he needed to evacuate civilians from the town of Kherson that his forces were having a hard time, that food is not getting into the city, that his -- job of his soldiers is to grind down the enemy's advanced. He didn't say it, but this is how Russian media works, rather he would be on TV in the first place, but seeming to signal between the lines that perhaps Russia is going to have to give up its grip on Kherson. That would be significant.

But to get an idea of just how the propaganda machine and Russia works, I talked to a former Russian soldier who then gone to work for the state news agency. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Since the war in Ukraine began, Russians have been denied the truth about what's happening to their army.

IRISOV: So when the war started, I was at military desk at TASS agency, a main Russian Information Agency.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Gleb Irisov, a former Russian Air Force Lieutenant turn state journalist is lifting the lid on the state secrecy.

IGOR KONASHENKOV, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE SPOKESMAN (through translation): 498 Russian servicemen died.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): It was March 2, more than a week into the war before Russia admitted its troops were dying in Ukraine. But Gleb says they'd known since the get go. He was manning the military desk phones at TASS as the war began,

IRISOV: I started to receive a lot of messages from my sources. They are taking heavy, extremely heavy casualties.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): What numbers?

IRISOV: So numbers was enormous.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He'd served in Syria in the Air Force, but quit in disgust over Russia's part in Assad's war. His wife worked at TASS. He got a job there thinking he'd be able to report facts about the poor state of Russia's military. But as soon as the war started in Ukraine, and Russian casualties began piling up, his hopes fell victim of Putin's propaganda machine.

IRISOV: Freedom of press was canceled immediately at February 24, instruction from the Ministry of Defense, from FSB, from the Office of the President. They just started to use these agencies as their own mechanism of propaganda.

New laws preventing protests over the war in Ukraine put Gleb, his wife, and young family in danger. He quit a week into the war. A week later, they fled for safety to Armenia, then Georgia, then Turkey, then Mexico, finally to the USA, and a chance to tell the truth about the war.

IRISOV: If you want really to spoke out, you need to be at some kind of safe place.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): His insights are remarkable, rampant corruption and warlordism.

IRISOV: Putin himself and his friends, they use these military systems. They used (ph) tons of money through this military system. ROBERTSON (voice-over): Gleb's observations about Putin's newly promoted General Sergei Surovikin reveal the propaganda machine he fled remains in overdrive. General Armageddon, as Surovikin is known, actually danger to his own side.

IRISOV: He has made the life of his commanding officer zero, absolutely impossible, so.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Gleb knows Surovikin served under him in Syria. He says the general signed off on his resignation.

(on-camera) Is he going to change the morale in the Russian forces?

IRISOV: I strongly believe that nothing can change the morale of Russian forces. No way.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Putin's propaganda machine may be working. His army is not. Gleb is witness to both and brave enough to speak about it.


ROBERTSON: And he believes that Surovikin is really only given this position of general in charge by Putin because he's shown himself to be extremely loyal in the past, which Putin might actually need as the war continues to tip against Russia.

ROMANS: All right, Nic, excellent reporting. Thank you so much for that.

Ahead, another court defeat for the special counsel investigating the FBI's Trump Russia probe. And drought conditions disrupting Mississippi River shipping and threatening to spike inflation.



ROMANS: All right for much of the country, winter is coming this week with suddenly freezing temperatures and the first significant snowfall. Let's get right to Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. What's going to happen?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Christine, good morning. Lots of cold weather coming in across a large area here. The Great Lakes certainly kind of a prime example of what's happening here. Big disturbance cruising right in across the eastern Great Lakes and some snow showers as a result of it accumulating across that region.

But notice this, parts of 23 states, upwards of 120 million Americans dealing with these cold weather alerts that are in place this morning. And it's going to eventually kind of spill across areas of the -- towards the eastern seaboard here. And again, the snow accumulations are there but they're not these current temperatures.

26 degrees across Minneapolis, 26 in Omaha and Nashville at 38, Atlanta same score, Montgomery, also into the upper and middle 30s as well. And windshields. When you factor in the windshields, we're down into the teens there across portions of De Moines and Kansas City. Temps, you'd want to see maybe in that December or January. But you're seeing here certainly in the middle of October.

And when you compare it to this time yesterday, about six to almost 20 plus degrees colder right now than it was this time yesterday. Especially around the Florida Panhandle there where temps in Arizona and Jacksonville 24 degrees colder --


JAVAHERI: -- than this time yesterday. So many is 85. Record low temperatures possible through Thursday. But the good news is you notice these low temperature forecasts, they're going to warm up here on the order of maybe 5 to 7 degrees over the next several days. And by the time we get to Saturday and Sunday, we're right back up again around the average for this time of year.

So it is short lived but it is a shot of winter here coming in --


JAVAHERI: -- for the next few hours.

ROMANS: A bit of a boomerang. All right, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

ROMANS: A jury in Northern California convicting Paul Flores on first degree murder charges in the death of Kristin Smart. His verdict, coming 26 years after the college student's death. On the same day, a separate jury found Flores' father Ruben not guilty of being an accessory to Smart's murder.

Interest in the case was renewed by the podcast "Your Own Backyard" in 2019. It identified Paul Flores as the last person to have seen Smart alive.